SGA petitions for better Title IX practices, extends signature deadline

Passed in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination against girls and women at institutions of higher education that use federal funding. There are just a handful of colleges in the U.S. that do not receive any federal funding. Graphic by Maggie Mayer.

Student Government (SGA) released a resolution proposal and petition to strengthen victim’s rights and support in the sexual misconduct policy. This was largely in response to changes to Title IX proposed by Betsy DeVos in the past several months. 

SGA’s “Resolution to Condemn Campus Sexual Misconduct” states that student leadership  “seeks to revise specific existing policies and procedures” and heighten protective measures for alleged victims of sexual misconduct, the document states. While Title IX is law, it also relies on universities for compliance and application, which SGA hopes to supplement with the proposal. 

“This resolution and the accompanying petition will serve as a powerful statement on behalf of the student body,” SGA Upper Senator Alex Ballard told Prowl in an email.

The sponsors of the petition initially aimed to get 2,000 signatures by March 1, but the deadline was extended another two weeks. As of March 1, it had about 1,400 signatures.

The petition is not actually required for the proposal to be put into action, but Ballard said that SGA seeks the support of the student body rather than just having it passed through their 16-person Senate. SGA hopes to send a stronger message to the Chapman administration this way.  

In November 2018, DeVos proposed amendments to Title IX that would strengthen the rights of accused perpetrators in sexual misconduct cases reported at federally funded universities. The proposal occurred more than one year after she rescinded two Obama-era Title IX policies, which according to DeVos, treated the accused unfairly. Some of these changes include tightening the definition of sexual misconduct and not requiring universities to investigate assaults that happen off of university property.  

Amid the DeVos controversy, Ballard and Dodge College Senator Lindsey Ellis spearheaded an initiative to protect and improve existing policies that give increased support and clear resources to victims. The senators started working on the resolution in November after hearing stories from Chapman students about their experiences with Title IX investigations, according to Ballard.

They hope to see changes in Chapman’s practices on this issue to foster an environment in which students feel comfortable coming forward and to restore their faith in the processes, Ballard stated.

“Our recommendations seek to ensure that Chapman’s Title IX policies on paper are properly carried out in practice.”  

The resolution demands that the university “engage in some self-examination” and reflect on the best practices for students, rather than mere compliance, according to Ballard. The proposal also encourages the university to hire more Title IX staff.

Chapman understands the severity and sensitivity of these issues but also has to coincide with California law, according to Title IX Lead Coordinator Deann Yocum Gaffney.

“I meet with students quite regularly, unfortunately, about these kinds of incidents and the effects they have,” Yocum Gaffney said.

Title IX, originally passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, is a federal civil rights law that acts in collaboration with state and local law.

Certain policies released by DeVos were implemented in California State Law as of about eight months ago, Yocum Gaffney said. A new policy mandating the accused and the accuser attend the same hearing, rather than permitting alleged victims to testify separately from their alleged assailants, was added in August 2018, according to the State Legislature.

“These hearings are grueling and really difficult for both students, but we have to be fair and people have to be able to ask all the questions they want,” Yocum Gaffney said. She declined to disclose her opinion of the new proposals.

“When requested, a school should make arrangements so that the complainant and the alleged perpetrator do not have to be present in the same room at the same time,” according to a statement from 2014 in the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights records. “Allowing an alleged perpetrator to question a complainant directly may be traumatic or intimidating, and may perpetuate a hostile environment.”

Chapman will release a new policy on how the university deals with these issues in the coming months as a follow-up to the DOE changes, Yocum Gaffney said.

The SGA proposal lists ten things the university could do combat these regulations, should DeVos’ proposals be passed. Several of the resolutions deal with educating more Chapman faculty and staff as to how to respond when students disclose information regarding sexual misconduct, which Yocum Gaffney said is already an aspect of the state laws passed in August.

Another proposal includes creating a task force of students and faculty that meets annually to discuss ways that they support all students should an incident of sexual misconduct arise.

“Our goal is to protect students in this process,” Ballard stated. “We are in favor of measures that align with that goal.”

Jessi Lumsden feels that what SGA is doing is worthwhile and plans to sign the petition.

“If enough people speak out about what’s going on, hopefully the issues with the Title IX changes can be identified,” Lumsden said.

SGA is confident that the actions the organization is requesting are realistic for Chapman to accomplish amidst the changing state and federal regulations, according to Ballard.

“Many of our policies are based on federal and state guidelines (emphasis on guidelines), and we believe that changes can be made to better follow those guidelines. We see the issue as partly a policy issue, but more so a practices issue,” he stated.

Ballard and Ellis have spoken to more than 30 student organizations about their proposal.

SGA leaders will continue to spread the resolution to students in the next few weeks, and then it will be taken to the Faculty Senate for review.

Chapman is trying to find a balance between working with the law and protecting students, Yocum Gaffney said.

“Title IX issues are deeply personal matters, and the stakes are very high,” Yocum Gaffney said. “We understand that this is an issue people feel strongly and deeply about, as they should.”

McKenna Sulick

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